The jersey was unfamiliar, but the number was not. New Nationals manager Matt Williams donned his new organization’s uniform top with his favorite No. 9.
That’s the number Williams wore for most of his 17-year major-league career and it is the one he will wear in the Nats’ dugout next season as the successor to the retired Davey Johnson. On Friday at Nationals Park, Williams concluded a whirlwind two days by meeting team employees, signing his new contract – terms undisclosed – and holding court with a live televised press conference.
In attendance: Two of his veteran players, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond, along with pitcher Tanner Roark. They watched from the front row as Williams, who has never managed beyond a short stint at Double-A as an emergency fill-in in 2007 and in a fall developmental league, explained his philosophy.
“I think that if you apply pressure, you have the advantage,” Williams said. “That comes in many different forms. I think you can apply pressure defensively…So I will be aggressive. My natural tendency is to go.”
Another man watching from the seats was Nats bench coach Randy Knorr. It could have been an awkward situation. Knorr was the other finalist and has been in the organization since 2001 in a myriad of capacities. But the two men have apparently forged a common ground and will meet again next week in Arizona, where Williams currently lives. He was a longtime member of the Arizona Diamondbacks as a player, broadcaster and coach.
But Knorr decided that he wanted to stay in Washington, even if it wasn’t his preferred capacity, and so he remains. Williams and general manager Mike Rizzo said the new manager needs personnel intimately familiar with his new club. Knorr, pitching coach Steve McCatty, third base coach Trent Jewett, first base coach Tony Tarasco and hitting coach Rick Schu will all return under Williams.
“It can be a very difficult dynamic because Randy is certainly popular among the players,” Williams said. “We have seen that they have given them their support during this process. I can’t claim to know them or this team as much as Randy does. So I’m going to lean on him. And he’s been kind enough to say lean on me.”
Only bullpen coach Jim Lett is leaving. He will be replaced by Matt LeCroy, who has been with the Nats since 2008 and spent this past season as the manager at Double-A Harrisburg. The one addition to the coaching staff is Mark Weidermaier, a defensive coordination/advance coach. He will work with Nats players, scouts and front office staff on defensive positioning.
“Today is really the first day I’ve ever talked to [Williams] or had a chance to meet him,” Werth said. “As time goes on we’ll get to know him better and find out who he really is. But he’s saying all the right things. He’s articulate. So far, so good, I guess.”
Washington won 98 games in 2012 and earned its first NL East title since moving to the District in 2005. But that total dropped to 86 during a disappointing 2013. Johnson had said it would be his last season so candidates around baseball knew a plumb job would be opening. Team officials see no need for an overhaul and Williams doesn’t, either.
“This is a great team that is on the brink of something really special,” Williams said “So, to be fixed? I don’t know. I can’t say anything.”